In the book, It Will Never Happen To Me, author Claudia Black, PhD outlines the three unwritten rules children of alcoholic parents must follow to protect the secrets related to alcoholism in the family. The unwritten rules are, Don't Talk, Don't Trust, Don't Feel. This blog post describes historical and current attempts to pressure African Americans to honor the Don't Talk rule and offers implications for addictions counseling with African Americans with Substance Use Disorders.
In the past several years the nation has witnessed numerous unarmed African Americans be shot and killed by police officers and in almost every instance the officer has been acquitted. This played a role in San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to take a knee during the singing of the National Anthem prior to his NFL Football games. Colin stated, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." The price he has paid for talking is that none of the 32 NFL Teams will sign him to a contract, even as a third string quarterback. This is in spite of the fact that he was a starting quarter back for much of his career and and led his team to the NFC Championship and to a Super Bowl. Tom Brady, arguably the best quarterback of all times said that Colin Kaepernick is good enough to be on an NFL roster.
African Americans receiving consequences for breaking the Don't Talk rules goes back a long time. W.E.B. Dubois, the first African American to receive a PH,D from Harvard University (1895) was labeled a communist and Exiled to Ghana in West African for speaking against oppression. The multi-talented Paul Robeson (Pro Athlete, Opera Singer, Actor, Orator and Activist) was exiled to Russia for speaking out against racism. The first African American Heavy Weight boxing Champion, the outspoken Jack Johnson was forced to throw a fight, DR Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were wire tapped by the FBI as was activist and former Black Panther Angela Davis. Scores of African Americans have been arrested for talking. Dr King and Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers paid the ultimate price. They were assassinated. There is evidence that even in jest African Americans can pay a price for talking. Recently, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor did a 4 city tour to promote their prize fight which grossed the largest salaries in history for one fight. It is estimated that FloydMayweather made 100 million Dollars and his opponent Conor McGregor maid 30 million dollars. A big part of the economic success of this fight is the fact that both men boast and brag about their greatness as fighters. Floyd, who is African American was booed in each city. In Summary, if you break the Don't talk rule you can be labeled a communist or un-American, arrested, exiled,fired, wire tapped by the FBI, assassinated or booed.
Singer Billie Holiday made a song called, "Strange Fruit." This song was about Black men who were lynched in the South and could be seen handing from trees. The Head of The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (The organization later became the FBI) felt that Billie Holiday was dangerous for making this song. Hearing that Billie Holiday was addicted to heroin, there was a war on drugs targeted at Billie Holiday for talking. Years later we learned that as a 10 year old girl Billie Holiday was sexually assaulted by an adult male and when she told what happened to her she was arrested and forced to live in solitary confinement for a year. This trauma triggered her addiction to alcohol and heroin. She died of Cirrhosis of the liver at age 33.
African Americans entering addictions treatment who are aware of the current and historical consequences of breaking the Don't Talk rule may be hesitant to speak their truth, discuss their oppression and the anger it produces for fear of consequences. It is important for addictions counselors to be aware of this history and not send signals directly or indirectly to African American Clients that it is not OK to talk. Your comfort level when he or she discusses smaller events which impact him or her and go a long way to convincing the client that it is OK to talk and share experiences with you.